Wednesday, April 15, 2009

You and Your Crystal Meth

At first sight, these numbers about changes in the racial makeup of who is getting sentenced for drug crimes seemed promising:

The D.C.-based Sentencing Project reported that the number of black inmates in state prisons for drug offenses had fallen from 145,000 in 1999 to 113,500 in 2005, a 22 percent decline. In that period, the number of white drug offenders rose steadily, from about 50,000 to more than 72,000, a 43 percent increase. The number of Latino drug offenders was virtually unchanged at about 51,000.
A second glance though is much more depressing. While the War on Drugs has maybe begun to move beyond its "let's use this phrase as a euphemism for arresting black and brown people" phase, there hasn't been any drop off in the numbers of people sentenced for drugs. We still are seeing about 250,000 people a year sent to prison, 95% of whom have done no harm. And what these racial changes reflect is the rise in crystal meth which is popular with whites.

Plus, even these significant changes in the racial makeup still leave us with African-Americans, who make up 12% of the population, with far more in prison than whites, who make up about 70% of the population. This is not good. When progress still sucks, you know things are really screwed up.

Can we please just end the drug wars for christ's sake?